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2018 Final Four

From a storyline standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Final Four.

March 26, 2018 - 11:53 am

And while Loyola is getting all the Final Four headlines, and rightly so, no one is surprised the other three are headed to San Antonio and I can make a pretty good argument for any of them as the team to beat right now. In fact, from a storyline standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better Final Four. You’ve got the Cinderella with the 98-year-old nun who has captured the country’s hearts.

You have John Beilein and Michigan making a return to the Final Four after beating Florida State on Saturday night. And if you didn’t know before, you better recognize it now: John Beilein is a good coach. A damn good coach. How good? He took a team that lost to Nebraska by 20 in January and has them in the Final Four in March. A guy whose team lost to Northwestern February 6 to drop to 8-5 and fall to fifth place in the Big Ten, but has lost since. And they can beat you any number of ways. That’s a helluva team.  Just don’t expect Beielien to admit how good he is.

But you can expect him to admit that he’s approaching this trip differently from his last one. He’s enjoying this one and having more fun than he did in 2013. And you can see that showing up in his players as well.

On the other half of the bracket, you have a certified blue blood in Kansas advancing with an overtime win over Duke. And a new blue blood in Villanova making its third trip to the Final Four in a decade, and looking for their second national title in three years.   And yeah, Kansas dodged a scud when Grayson Allen’s last-second shot in regulation rimmed out. If that goes down, Allen’s a legend and Duke rolls on. Instead, it was Twitter lapping up the Duke tears and celebrating the end of Allen’s run.

But don’t let your hatred of Duke and Duke fans blind you to what Kansas has done. Because the truth of it is, on paper, this isn’t one of Bill Self’s best teams. But it is one of his best coaching jobs, if not the best. This is a Kansas team that lost three times at home this year. That’s significant because coming into this year, they’d only lost 10 times at home since 2003. This is the team that Self described back in December as the “softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here.” This is the team that people thought would break the conference title streak. But they didn’t break that streak. And they aren’t soft. And they are in the Final Four.

And they will meet Villanova, who has been the most impressive team through the first four games of the tournament. Jay Wright’s team was the most efficient offense in the country during the season and that continued in the first three games of the tournament. And then they ran into Texas Tech and the Red Raiders hassled them and hounded them into Nova’s worst offensive game of the tournament. And they still won by 12. You know good you have to be crack a team as good as Texas Tech, while shooting 33% from the floor and just 4 of 24 from beyond the arc. They couldn’t have shot it any worse, and it didn’t matter at all. That’s the kind of night that gets Nova beat a few years ago. But not anymore. Not when they dee up the way they do, go to the glass, esp. The offensive glass the way they do, and have the toughness they do. Then again, they’re like their coach: swaggy as hell: and tough as hell. And they never ever rattle. Hell, Jalen Brunson won’t let them. Not only your potential player of the year, but as good a floor general as you will ever see: a dude who always has the ball in his hand and never makes a bad decision. On paper, Villanova is the the best of the remaining four: they shoot the hell out of it and even when their shots aren’t falling they’re as dangerous as anyone heading to San Antonio. But if the tourney has taught us anything, and this year more than any other year, anything is possible. And if I were asked to, I know I could make a really compelling argument for any of the remaining four to cut the nets down Monday night.  It’s Monday for the title, but I’m already counting down the hours until Saturday night: Loyola v. Michigan, Kansas v. Villanova. You couldn’t ask for anything more. Let’s do this.